Pablo Guerro was angry; he was always angry. He had a tumour in his brain that made him angry; surly at best. He was stamping up the shaggy carpeted stairs of the bedsit he owned. Something he inherited from his equally angry mother, who didn’t have a tumour in the brain; she was just pissed off. Pablo sighed; that greasy little cocksucker Bruce Fallow was late with the weekly rent, and now that he thought about it, he hadn’t seen that little worm all week—or the weekend—and it was now Tuesday. I really hope he hasn’t offed himself, he thought, the last thing I need are the cops sniffing around here. He banged twice on Bruce’s door with the flat of his hand. Probably drugs, heroin, or any of the shit on the streets nowadays. He heard movement on the other side, but he banged on the door again, anyway. Bruce opened the door topless, his long greasy black hair hanging over his skinny body. Pablo stared for a moment; it was the same wimp in front of him, a bag of bones with a near caved-in chest, but there was a glint in his eye, something none of his tenants had. He was making eye contact; looking straight at him. Definitely not drugs.

“It’s Tuesday,” Pablo said, “Rent.”

“Come in,” said Bruce, “I wanna show you something.”


It was dark, and the first thing Pablo noticed was the lack of tension in his head where the doctors said he had a tumour; he felt good, relaxed. Through the darkness, he heard the whisper of bare feet on the ground as a woman, clothed only in a dark, loosely hanging dress, approached him. Perfect, thought Pablo, the right curves and a face that was not exactly pretty. She stopped in front of him and smiled, her teeth a little crooked.

“I know what you like,” she said, rubbing her hand on his chest and deftly dropping to her knees. God, that felt good. Pablo threw his head back and gave a soft moan. Then a thought struck him; he was not alone in this room. He ripped the headset off, breaking the neural link, and Bruce’s shabby room came back into view. His head screeched, but he raised a questioning finger at Bruce, who had a shocked look on his face.

“Don’t do that again,” said Bruce, “Breaking the neural link like that is really dangerous.” He raised both open hands in the air. “You carry on. I’m going to get something to eat.” He slipped on a shirt and left the room. Pablo eagerly re-fitted the headset, pushing the button on the side, reconnecting the neural link. His head stopped screeching.

The darkness and the pleasure resumed.


Bruce returned to the room after a short while, a knowing grin on his face. “Where did you get this?” said Pablo, referring to the headset lying on the bed.

“A bunker,” said Bruce.

“A bunker?” Some anger returned to Pablo.

“Yes,” Bruce said, trying to placate the edge he heard in Pablo’s voice. “A pre-war bunker. All the rich people had `em when they thought the world was going to end.”

“It nearly fucking did. These things are illegal, you know.”

“Look, I found an old bunker in the ruins of the dead city where the rich people lived.” Bruce gingerly took a seat on his bed; Pablo scared him, but he had no choice but to deal with him. “My Dad was in construction and he made a bit of money building secret bunkers. He gave me some addresses before he died, all flattened rubble now, but I did a bit of late-night snooping, and yeah, I found one.” Bruce picked up the black headset, holding it in the air in front of Pablo. “This was the only thing of value left in there; I guess the old coot wanted to enjoy his last hours. He was still hooked up when I found him, nothing more than a pile of bones.” Pablo curled his lip up, as if he smelled something bad. Bruce continued, “I spent the last week cleaning it, fixing it, calibrating it, getting it to work. It’s good? No?”

“Fuckin’ a it is,” replied Pablo. “But how’s it work? It felt so real, and that woman, man, she was just perfect.”

“Yeah, perfect for you. It’s a relic. An old pre-war device. It reads and reacts to your thoughts and changes the image, the sensation, instantly, to suit your preferences—you always come away satisfied—dangerous if not used properly.”

A wide smile stretched across Bruce’s face. “I’ve had a wild, crazy week with that thing.”

“Okay, but that doesn’t help me with the rent,” Pablo could feel his usual vitriol rising; he felt like lashing out at someone. “Does it now, huh!” he said, slapping his hand on his thigh.

“I have a plan,” said Bruce standing up, still grinning.

Bruce had a plan, an illegal plan, but a potentially lucrative plan. A virtual reality brothel. Low overheads, and they didn’t have to deal with any working girls and all the problems they bring. No diseases, no drugs, and best of all—and this was the big selling point—anything was possible; there was no real sex. Spend half an hour with our neural headset and experience your wildest desires, satisfaction always guaranteed, no-holds-barred, be the man you always wanted to be, do the things you always wanted to do.

Pablo was sold.


They set up shop in an unused room; they needed nothing more than a couch since everything else happened in the head. Finding clients was the hard part because they couldn’t just advertise their services on the street; the overworked cops in this post-war city were busy keeping everything in order. They would turn a blind eye—for a while at least—but they still needed to be discrete. It was Pablo who finally came in off the street, leading old man Wheaton into their “office.”  They got the money; a week’s rent for a 20-minute session.

“Come, take a seat here, Mr. Wheaton,” said Bruce, motioning the old man to the couch and handing him a towel. “Relax and enjoy yourself.”

“I remember this from when I was a young man. It was fantastic.”

“Yeah,” said Bruce.

“Will you ah…will you be in the room here the whole time?”

“My associate and myself will wait for you right outside. We will knock after 20 minutes. If you are not done, we will wait another five. We will start and charge for another session if you are still not out. Do you understand?”

Mr. Wheaton nodded his head. “20 minutes should do.”

“Take your pants off. Sit on the towel. I charge extra to clean up your mess,” said Pablo. Bruce nudged Pablo out the room. He had a lot to learn about dealing with clients; he had a lot to learn about people, full stop. The man spread the towel out on the couch.

“Okay, Mr. Wheaton, let me just fix this on your head. There is nothing to be worried about; I check and calibrate the machine after every session.” The old man nodded and Bruce fitted the neural headset, switched it on, and seated Mr. Wheaton on the couch.

“Now, after I close the door, you can take your pants off, okay?”

The old man smiled and sat down on the old brown sofa.

“Relax and enjoy yourself,” said Bruce, leaving the room.


Bruce closed the door. He was sweating and his pulse was pumping in his ears; he turned to face Pablo, who was waiting for him in the dimly lit passage.

“This better work, Bruce, or I’m gonna…” said Pablo. He was also excited, agitated, biting his lower lip, his eyes darting around, his dark unshaven face looking dangerous. “This just better fucking work.”

Bruce gave Pablo a bit of space and moved a little way down the hall; he hadn’t actually seen Pablo resort to violence, but he was sure it was always only bubbling below the surface. He seemed even more irascible than usual; pacing up and down, with a severe look on his face. Pablo put his ear to the thin door and, not hearing anything inside, slowly pulled down the handle. Bruce, realising he couldn’t stop him, put his fingers to his lips and motioned for him to be quiet. Pablo sneaked into the room and Bruce followed.

The room was eerily silent; cardboard taped over the glass blocked the light from the small window. In the middle of the room sat Mr. Wheaton on a towel on the old sofa, his head thrown back on the lean, his pants still on.

He wasn’t moving; he looked dead. Pablo crept closer. Bruce, grabbing him by the elbow, stopped him; Mr. Wheaton slowly sat up. He was talking, talking aloud to someone in his head.

“Hey there, little girl,” Mr. Wheaton said in a tone adults only used on kids. Pablo’s eyes widened. “Come closer, don’t be afraid. Do you know where your mommy is?”

The rage inside Pablo burst to the surface; finally, it had a target, a legitimate target. He took two quick steps to the couch and, with an open hand, gave Mr. Wheaton a solid smack on the side of the head.

“You fuckin’ pedo,” he snarled, whipping the headset off Mr. Wheaton’s head, flinging it across the room. He raised his hand to strike him again, but stopped. Mr. Wheaton hadn’t said a word; he lay on the couch, eyes wide open, reflecting the cardboard light.

“He’s dead,” said Bruce, “You killed him.”

Well, one less pedo in the world, thought Bruce, kicking into action. He would help Pablo carry the body downstairs into the entrance hall, call the police; old man, neighbourhood regular, fell down walking past the door, carried him inside, died, probably stroke, send ambulance, urgent.

The headset was wrecked and he would not be able to repair it, a matter he would bring up with Pablo after talking to the police. He knew that if he spoke to them and Pablo just remained in the background, they wouldn’t be suspicious. Old men die, stroke out on the street, it is better than if they die alone in their apartment, only found weeks later. He was smiling as he threw the broken headset under his bed. If it all goes to plan, thought Bruce, I’ll not have to worry about rent for a very long time. He forced the smile off his face and practised looking shocked as he walked down the stairs to wait for the cops with Pablo.


Mr. Wheaton had put his head back onto the lean of the couch as the darkness engulfed him. He could feel the probes of the headset as it scanned his brain, his thoughts.

A strange prickling sensation, something he hadn’t felt in 50 years, but an accustomed feeling. He had used such a device many times as a young man before they were banned, recalled, seized, destroyed. He knew people who had kept theirs hidden away; he knew people who got caught, thrown in jail; he also knew people who had died, bleeding in their brains, and some unlucky ones that survived. At his age, the risk didn’t matter anymore.

He focused his thoughts on his daughter, how she looked before the war, before a long-range missile flattened his home and half the city, while he was up the river loading a ship with medical supplies. Slowly out of the darkness, a young girl appeared, long blonde pigtails, a short summer dress. He knew they set the machine up to respond to his sexual desires, but he could control that, switch that part of his mind off, use the machine to explore his memories in the most vivid way possible. And now before him stood his daughter, real as life, unchanged by time. How I miss you, he thought.

She stood smiling before him, while in the distance, a bigger shape appeared in the dark. Was that Elisabeth…could he also conjure his wife out the dark corners of his memory and be with them? It was hard keeping the focus, keeping the images in his head. He sat up, and, leaning forward, said: “Hey there, little girl, come closer, don’t be afraid…do you know where your mommy is?”